Anyone who thinks this is just the flu has not been to Seattle. Hospitals here are so desperate for protective gear, they are asking for volunteers to sew masks for health care workers. They will provide kits to anyone who will sew them. All non-emergency care is being cancelled and entire hospitals are being turned into ICU’s. When they say non-emergency, they don’t just mean no nose jobs. Even cancer surgery is being postponed to prepare for the onslaught. We are up to 74 deaths and, with almost 1,400 cases, we can expect more than double that number in the coming days, with hundreds in the hospital, even with the most draconian measures to control spread.

And the measures being taken here and elsewhere in the country are draconian indeed. Everything except essential services have been shutdown. The streets are empty. Like most of the state, I am home with my kids and the schools, completely unprepared for this, have no real plan to provide online learning. For practical purposes, we are in survival mode.

The impact on local businesses is staggering and very real. From my friend, “Karen”, the physical therapist this morning:

“… do you think I should stay open? I’m still on the yes side of this. We have pretty full schedules next week, but are experiencing about 45-55% cancellations and very few new patients. My landlords are not ready to offer rent abatement. 

Another big question is health insurance.  If my team drops below 50%, our contract says we don’t offer health care coverage below 80% FTE. I do not have the revenue to pay for premiums. Will the insurance industry step up and Offer reduced premiums? So far, that industry has been silent.”

The decree from the governor allows for her to continue to stay open. I have been working with her on appropriate infection control and she is fastidious. With all of that said, at least she has the option to stay open. I shudder to think about what this means for those businesses forced to close. Many will not open again.

So, we are all facing a desperate choice. What is the real cost of zero risk? On one hand it is essential to save lives and, on the other, we do not want to destroy lives by shutting down the economy. We need to find a way to protect businesses such as Karen’s. Is it possible to defer or cancel debts? Will we be faced with streets pockmarked with shuttered businesses after this is over? We are only a bit ahead of the rest of the country. We all need to be having this conversation.